Be careful what you wish for
C has a friend. A best friend. A boy who shares his fanatical interests in silly noises and Mario. They talk on the phone endlessly, trade houses for playdates, and send each other notes home in their school folders. I’m so happy I could cry. It’s wonderful, really, that C finally has a real friend, and when he talks, it’s all “T” all the time.
Yet with this grand first friendship unfortunately comes a grand drawback. Before C came along, T was inseparable with “R” for many years. Now R is on the outs. Worse, R has an autism diagnosis. Worst, C has never excluded anyone from anything. Until now.
C and T are doing the usual when three’s a crowd; they are ganging up against the third. Yes, you heard right, my own sweet special needs boy is participating in the unhappiness of another special needs child. It’s not all the time as there are times at school when the three interact nicely together, but R has clearly been replaced in T’s world. C doesn’t know R has autism, and C doesn’t know he himself has autism. What C knows, I believe, is that for the first time ever, he has a best friend, and it feels good. I can’t begrudge him that.
I suppose most parents would either ignore the behavior or talk generally with their child about being kind to everyone, and the behavior would continue or it would not. Neither of those options work for me. Given my natural protectiveness of children with special needs, I’m not sure which is more painful to me: that this particular child is being hurt or that it’s my child who is partly responsible for the hurting. I simply can’t just ignore the behavior, no matter how much I’d like to say this behavior is a natural part of growing up. C has been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior far too much to simply let it go when it comes from him. And talking generally with C about being kind is never going to sink in to the point he realizes I’m talking about how he treats R.
So I had to go for something more dramatic, something C would not confuse or only partially hear. I pretty much read him the riot act, complete with telling C he wouldn’t be allowed to play with T on the weekends anymore if the two of them couldn’t figure out a way to be kind to R. I reminded C that he too had been left out of groups and how upset he was by it.
What I realized, unfortunately too late, is that this approach didn’t work either. It became painfully obvious, after a particularly unproductive, mostly one-sided conversation, that I had blown it completely. C had no real idea what I was talking about. I figured on some level he knew he was being unkind, but he really didn’t. It simply did not occur to C that R was hurt. And that is what broke my heart most of all.